Foundational Facts

The apostle Paul is about to answer another critically foundational question: Is there a resurrection of the dead? In a society ó Western Civilization ó based originally on "Moses, Jesus, and Paul," it can be too easy to accept as fact not only Jesusí resurrection from the dead, but also that there will be a general resurrection from the dead on the last day. To process the magnitude of Jesusí resurrection and comprehend how difficult it would be to believe in such an event, our minds somehow have to be translated back to the environs of the days following Christís crucifixion. The disciples of Jesus as a whole were in despair when Jesus was crucified, their hopes having been dashed as Roman nails pinioned Him to the "tree." Their almost universal response, as they one-by-one heard of the empty tomb, was that the body had been stolen away. But as He demonstrated that His Spirit and soul had rejoined His body (which is the definition of resurrection), "by many convincing proofs," the disciples began to believe in His resurrection, and through that to believe in the general resurrection at the end of the age.

Having laid his foundation, the apostle is going to argue from this point that there is a general resurrection from the dead. The saint of God is intensely interested in the argumentation here, for it is critical in strengthening his faith and enabling him also "to stand."

And that He Appeared

"Christ," says Paul, "died for our sins according to the scriptures." God goes to some lengths to establish manís need for forgiveness. He implanted a consciousness of right and wrong in manís heart. He buttressed that by thundering His commandments from Sinai, inscribing them on tablets of stone, and having the written record of them distributed all over the world. He established sacrifice as a means of atonement ó going all the way back to Cain and Abel ó and implemented organized sacrifices in Israel so that, for members of the human race, the statement of John the Immerser regarding Jesus would make sense: "Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29). Christ, the sacrificial lamb, died for our sins according to the scriptures. But that death is not all there is to the story!

The gospel not only contains facts about Jesusí death, burial, and resurrection, but continues on from there. The gospel includes the records of His appearances as bodily resurrected, but it also continues on from there! The gospel incorporates the record that Jesus was glorified, and in this fashion appeared to Saul of Tarsus. The gospel is not limited to "the death, burial, and resurrection" of Jesus!

Paul's Apostleship

In both of Paulís letters to Timothy, he points out that he was appointed a preacher, an apostle, and a teacher. From the time of his immersion into Christ, Paul (or Saul as he was then known) began teaching in the synagogues at Damascus, "increasing in strength and confounding the Jews who lived at Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Christ" (Acts 9:22). Later, he and Barnabas were set aside by the church at Antioch of Syria to preach to the Gentiles. And while on his first missionary journey, some fifteen or sixteen years after the church began, the full apostleship of Jesus Christ was granted to Paul. Because his apostleship did not develop in the same way as the other twelve, that apostleship was challenged in places like Corinth. But, as Paul explained to the congregations of Galatia concerning the gospel, "For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ" (Galatians 1:12). Hence, though he was "as it were, untimely born," he was fully assured in his apostleship.

"Am I not an apostle?" Paul had earlier queried. "Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord?" (I Corinthians 9:1). His credentials were fully known to the congregation in Corinth if they would honor that knowledge. And he therefore was a witness to the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead!

No Resurrection???

Without written documents, everything is fuzzy. Memory gets a little cloudy, details are imprecise or lost, information is only partially or even incorrectly transmitted. Hence it was, with no written New Testament, that there was much confusion about the general topic of the resurrection of the dead and the specifics of Jesusí own resurrection.

The saints sometimes get a bit confused in their thinking. Sometimes they draw false conclusions because they donít have all the pieces of scripture they need to make a correct correlation, and sometimes they just donít realize how one piece of information they do have negates a conclusion they have reached. Thus it is, and thus it was in the church at Corinth.

"If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied," (I Corinthians 15:19). To have suffered and bled, and ultimately to die on behalf of a lie ó that Christ was raised from the dead ó would establish the apostles as pitiful fools! "But now," Paul pauses for effect, "Christ has been raised from the dead!" (I Corinthians 15:20). Hallelujah! He is risen indeed!

Ultimate Abolition

It is not a lie; it is the most powerful and glorious truth ó Christ is indeed risen from the dead! As a whole, the human race does not have a good track record when it comes to dealing with the unpleasant, unknown, or uncomfortable; hence as a whole, people do not rationally deal with death and life hereafter. But for those willing to honestly process the truth about physical death and eternal death, the power of Christís resurrection from the dead is all-important! If Christ has not been raised, has been Paulís reasoning, then there is no resurrection from the dead for anyone. And if there is no resurrection from the dead, everything is empty, vain. In consequence, he also points out, that if Christ has not been raised, then those who sacrificed everything on earth for the sake of the gospel and the hope of life eternal are "of all men most to be pitied." They sacrificed for a lie. "But," says he, "Christ has been raised from the dead." "He was raised," was a previous point from the letter, and established as fact, "on the third day according to the scriptures."

What a magnificent plan and opportunity God has for His children of faith! It is true that without Christ, we are "strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world" (Ephesians 2:12). But through Christ, we who would have been so hopeless are now brought into the realm where we have the secure hope of our own resurrection from the dead. This "one hope," referred to over and over in the sacred writings, is not a wondering on our part whether it will happen. It will happen. The "hope" has to do with wondering when it will happen. Hence, we wait, looking to the skies. "For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself" (Philippians 3:20,21).

The Last Enemy

When Jesus approached the tomb of His friend Lazarus, he was "deeply moved within" (John 11:38). He was upset and to some degree angry, not only at the death of Lazarus, but that death to mankind had to happen at all. Through sin, spiritual death entered into the world; and through sin, physical death came upon all mankind because of manís separation from the tree of life. Hence, even Jesus Himself was going to drink of the bitter of cup of physical death in order to deliver man from the results of his folly. "In Adam all die," noted Paul. "Since then the children [spiritual sons of God] share in flesh and blood," assayed Hebrewsí author, "He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil; and might deliver those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives" (Hebrews 2:14, 15). "In Christ," therefore says Paul, "all shall be made alive.

So, death is "the last enemy." "By man came death," and "in Adam all die." Jesus, in being resurrected from the dead, has been placed in the power position where He reigns and rules over all. At the end, He will take His seat on His glorious throne, the great white throne of Judgment Day. Satan and his angels will be cast into the lake of fire. The unrighteous among men will be cast into the lake of fire. "And death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire," is the apostle Johnís description of his vision. "This is the second death, the lake of fire" (Revelation 20:14). This is how "the last enemy" is abolished!

All Things in Subjection

The grand conclusion is when Jesus delivers up the kingdom to His Father. At this point all rule and authority other than His will have been abolished; all the earthly thrones will be gone, and all the demonic orders will have been cast into the lake of fire and brimstone. Because Jesus humbled Himself by emptying Himself of all divine advantage to take the form of a bond-servant, because He was obedient to the point of death ó even so horrible as death on the cross while carrying the burden of all of mankindís sins ó "God highly exalted Him." The nature of this exaltation is such that the Father "bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow ó of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth ó and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of the Father" (Philippians 2:7-11).

All things are pressing on to the final events and purpose of God. This is what the apostle Paul called "the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things upon the earth" (Ephesians 1:10). What God is doing is enfolding every saint in Christ, and then enveloping Christ in Himself, that He "may be all" and "in all." But just as the Father, the Son, and the Spirit each maintain their identities in the eternal city, so each saint maintains his identity while being one in God and God in him. "I will give him," says Jesus, "a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it" (Revelation 2:17). Each child of God is eternally special in the midst of this awesome, magnificent, and totally complete plan!

Baptism for the Dead?

"If there is no resurrection of the dead," was the apostle Paulís reasoning, "not even Christ has been raised." He then goes on in his syllogism, "And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins." But, of course, Christ has been raised from the dead, having established the truthfulness of that fact "by many convincing proofs" (Acts 1:3). The apostle then proceeded to detail the culmination of the concept of the resurrection from the dead, pointing out that the final enemy to be destroyed would be death, and that the kingdom would then be delivered up by Jesus to the Father. But now he wants bring in another reason for the importance of the resurrection of the dead.

The "one immersion" that all who are Christians have experienced is immersion into Christ. But many have had the opportunity, and many will have the opportunity, to experience the immersion of suffering on behalf of those who are outside of Christ and desperately need to hear the gospel before they perish forever. But if there is no resurrection of the dead, why bother?

Paul's Suffering

The first real intense persecution the early church experienced was brought on by one Saul of Tarsus, who later became the apostle Paul. "I am not fit to be called an apostle," he had mentioned to the Corinthian brethren, "because I persecuted the church of God." It seems, then, that what Paul had meted out, he received in return. Before Paulís immersion into Christ, Ananias ó who was sent by the Lord to tell Paul what to do and to immerse him ó was told concerning this now former persecutor, "I will show him how much he must suffer for My nameís sake" (Acts 9:16). As James and John and the other apostles were to drink of the cup that Jesus drank, and to be immersed with the same immersion of suffering with which Jesus was immersed, so it was with Paul. He was "baptized" for the dead; he suffered greatly in getting the gospel of glory to the lost.

Nearly everywhere the apostle went, he suffered persecution for the sake of the gospel. Some of that suffering is recorded in the book of Acts, but much of it apparently is not, such as these references to Ephesus. What a picture that must have been, the apostle Paul successfully fending off the wild beasts in the colosseum of Ephesus! "I was," he said to Timothy, "delivered out of the lionís mouth" (II Timothy 4:17). To which he added, "The Lord will deliver me from every evil deed, and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom." There is the resurrection of the dead!

Morals and the Resurrection

Peopleís actions are based on the information important to them, and how they process that information. If mankind can be convinced that there is no resurrection from the dead, and thus there is no accountability for earthly actions, then morals automatically decline. When men in general do not want to think about consequences of their actions ó individually or nationally ó they gravitate toward meaningless pleasures in order to dull and distract the thinking. When Isaiah, for example, prophesied the coming destruction of Jerusalem at the hand of the Babylonians, he also prophesied what the Jewsí response would be. "The Lord," he said, "called you to weeping, to wailing, to shaving the head, and to wearing sackcloth; instead there is gaiety and gladness, killing of cattle and slaughtering of sheep, eating of meat and drinking of wine." The revelers, instead of repenting of their sins and turning to God, came back with this glib response: "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die" (Isaiah 22:12,13). This, then, was quoted by the apostle Paul to make the point that if there is no resurrection from the dead, then nothing matters, and letís go grab for all the gusto we can get while we are still breathing.

Ultimately, the concept of the resurrection from the dead helps the follower of Christ clear his way through a lot of confusion, and helps him learn to focus on what is important. If something really doesnít matter when Jesus comes, it really is of small importance now; that dent in the car doesnít really matter, or the money that was stolen. At the resurrection from the dead, those things wonít be the subject of any discussion. But the things that matter when Jesus comes are the things that should really count now. Are we purifying ourselves, as He is pure? Are we raising our children up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord? Are we conducting ourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity? Are we shining as lights in the world, living as children of God in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation?

The Resurrection Body?

It is very challenging for the human mind to move from the physical to the spiritual. We all begin by learning everything through the five physical sense gates. But to move through the correct spiritual gate, to see and hear in the proper spiritual dimension, is a real step which, sadly, most of mankind will not take. The prophecy of Isaiah, and quoted by Jesus as recorded in Matthewís account, illustrates the failure for spiritual eyes and ears to develop, not only for the Jews of New Testament times, but really for most residents of this planet. "You will keep on hearing, but will not understand," Jesus quoted, "and you will keep on hearing but not perceive; for the heart of this people has become dull, and with their ears they scarcely hear, and they have closed their eyes, lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart and return, and I should heal them" (Matthew 13:14,15). Thus, with the teaching on the resurrection of the dead, some in Corinth struggled with the concept of what a spiritual, resurrection body would be.

Satan in his cunningness does everything he can to confuse people about the truths of the resurrection. Hindus, Buddhists, and New Agers have been conned into believing in reincarnation. The Pharoahs and others had their servants buried with them, anticipating that those servants would still be subject to them in a future world. Others have been convinced that once a person dies, they just vanish and cease to exist in any form. But the scripture is consistently emphatic: there is a resurrection of the dead on the last day, and that resurrection body and the spiritual universe in which is lives will not be like this present one!

Flesh and Glory

God is an imaginative and variegated Creator. For the benefit of man, among other reasons on His agenda, He created a tremendous array of flora and fauna for manís sustenance and pleasure. Whether it is the majestic mountain view, the sweet scent of a lilac, the soft touch of a babyís cheek, or the orchestral strains from one of the grand concertos, the senses of man are delighted by Godís design. Man, if he can only take one step back and contemplate, would marvel at the immense creative power of the Almighty, and begin to believe that, if this creation could be so amazing, what He could do in "the new heavens and new earth" would be even more awe inspiring.

The scoffers would snort, "How are the dead raised? And with what kind of body do they come?" The apostle shredded these objections with the demonstration even from the physical realm of Godís awesome power and ability to create flesh and glory. From seed to plant, he also illustrated the power of God to produce something far different from that which originally dropped into the ground. Thus he combines all these to emphasize "It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body." From this the saint can take great encouragement and hope, from the rigors of daily living to the edge of his own graveside. "It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory." Is this worth pressing on for? "It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power." Is this worth sacrificing for? "It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body." Is this worth suffering for? "If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body!!!!"

First the Natural, then the Spiritual

In the days of Moses, God did wonders in the land of Ham, and awesome things by the Red Sea. But these are small, small in comparison to what the Almighty has done through Jesus. God created the heavens and the earth in six days, but all that He did was create a universe that is wearing out like a garment. When God raised Jesus from the dead, however, and seated Him at the right hand of power, He brought into existence that which is permanent. Jesus is not only "the first-born of all creation," as the One through whom all things came into being, but He is more importantly "the first-born from the dead," the One through which all things eternal come into being (Colossians 1:15,18). The crossing of the Red Sea was seen; it illustrated in a demonstrable way the physical power of God. The after effects of Creation are seen; it opens the way to understanding the creative and maintenance power of God. But the resurrection of Jesus out of the depths of Hades and seating Him in glory were unseen, and set the stage for comprehending the spiritual power of God through faith.

"You are from below," Jesus told the Jewish hierarchy, "I am from above; you are of this world, I am not of this world" (John 8:23). By helping His disciples to recognize that He was from above, and that He would be the ancestor of special spiritual people, He would also help them to be secure in the hope of a future spiritual body. Through the gospel, He moves truth seekers from a focus on the physical to a focus and appreciation of the spiritual. These truth seekers, then, come to firmly believe that, if there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body, and to then govern their time on earth accordingly!

The Image of the Heavenly

Abraham was a great man of faith. All true Christians, be they from the ranks of the real Jews or from the ranks of the Gentiles, are called "the seed [or descendants] of Abraham." What is literally called "the faith of Christ," (Galatians 2:16), is also called "the faith of Abraham" (Romans 4:16). The faith characteristic of Abraham was that he believed that "what [God] had promised, He was able also to perform" (Romans 4:21). In Abrahamís case, what he believed was that God was able to make him a "father of many nations," which came true as Gentiles began to flood into the church. What, then, would be promised to Christians? What would they have to believe that God was able to perform?

No human power could cause an individual to be born from above. No human effort could cause a person to bear the image of Christ in his inner man. This, then, is the center of "the faith of Christ," the belief that in this arena "what God has promised, God is able to perform." Those therefore who truly live by faith ought "to walk in the same manner as He walked" (I John 2:6). Strengthened by the Spirit in the inner man, let us demonstrate the transformative power of bearing the image of Christ as a truly resurrected spiritual people.

Understanding a Mystery

The body you sow, averred the apostle Paul, is not the body which bursts forth from the ground. It is sown in dishonor, he informed us; it is raised in glory. Jesus, then, at His second coming "will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself" (Philippians 3:20). Saints donít get to know much about that new resurrection body except to know that it is bright, shining, and powerful!

This, then, has been intention of the Almighty God from before the foundation of the world. He spent the eons preparing for a special, spiritual people ó those who have been "born from above" as new creations in Christ Jesus. Earthly existence, by His design, has been a mere testing ground. Its entire history has been orchestrated to find those among the sons of men who would lift their eyes to see the Son of God in glory as revealed in the sacred writings. These, by faith, are those who are already shining on the inside, awaiting their completeness in receiving their resurrection bodies of glory. Praise God for His marvelous and almost incomprehensible plan!

Death Swallowed up in Victory

The fear of death has always plagued mankind. Whether their faces are covered with war paint to mask their fear, whether they drown their thoughts with the "Rebel yell," or whether they put on the bold face and bluster their way to their end, the fear of death occupies a good sized chunk of their minds. It is "through fear of death," says Hebrewsí author, that all mankind is "subject to slavery all their lives" (Hebrews 2:15). But the great Deliverer has come from Zion and has set the captives free! The saint, then, who believes that Jesus has saved him from his sins through the sacrifice of Christ and His intercessory priestly offering, and who believes that God has given him the Spirit of promise as a guarantee of Godís intention to complete His purchase option, also believes that Jesus is coming again to raise him from the dead. He, by the faith revealed in the pages of Godís holy word, is thus set free from fear of death, and eagerly looks to the sky for coming of His Savior and King, knowing that "when He appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him just as He is" (I John 3:2).

"But thanks be to God," says Paul, "who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!" (I Corinthians 15:57). Jesus had victory over physical death, and through Him those who are in Christ also will have their victory. This, then, is the "one hope" referenced throughout the writings of the New Testament.

Your Toil Is not in Vain

"How do some among you," the apostle Paul queries the Corinthian Christians, "say that there is no resurrection of the dead?" All of Christianity and the truthfulness of the Bible rest on the point expressed by Dr. Luke: "To these [apostles] He [Jesus] also presented Himself alive after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God" (Acts 1:3). From the verity that Jesusí resurrection occurred is derived the point that all true disciples of Christ will receive the glorious resurrection at Jesusí coming again. "This mortal," says Paul, "must put on immortality." God, then, gives His faithful saints "the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." And what a victory it will be! It staggers the mind to contemplate living forevermore with God in an immortal glorious body, in an eternity where there is no more death, no more sorrow, no more sickness, no more crying, no more curse. But that will not happen until the plan of God is finished on earth, and the last soul to be saved comes forth from the waters of immersion into Christ. From now until then, there is much work to be done!

The Lord Jesus Himself commented that, though the harvest was plentiful, the workers were few. One of the challenges in laboring in the fields and vineyards of the Lord is that the earthly rewards are outweighed by the vicissitudes of standing for the truth and the backlash of human nature. So those are exhorted to be "always abounding in the work of the Lord" are encouraged in "knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord." It is acknowledged by the apostle Paul that working for the Lord is toil, the work often being repetitive and without seeming to have any progress. But the great God of the harvest ó who backs the sowing, watering, and reaping ó guarantees that the hardworking, spiritually-minded saint, will have reason for rejoicing in the day of harvest. The toil is "not in vain in the Lord!"